The 2008/09 season started with high hopes and a run of fixtures which should have provided a springboard for a successful season.
Unfortunately Glasgow Warriors played the conditions far better than the Dragons and pinched the game by a narrow 12-6 scoreline.
Five days later and the Scarlets followed suit by nicking the result by just two points. Optimism was dented, but these close games were to set the tone of the season.
Similar close run games followed at Bath twice, Gloucester, the Scarlets (again) and the Blues at home. In all these games there was evidence of just how far the team had come, but the inability to kill off opponents has been the Achilles heel of the year.
The thrilling win against the star studded Ospreys almost made up for the 19-21 home defeat on Boxing Day to our seasoned rivals the Blues in the East Wales Derby.
The region also celebrated the first official sell out game in the Boxing Day clash and in the climate at the time supporters are probably the most valuable resource any side can boast – something the Dragons have been building on with increased attendances, despite their league position. One can only imagine where this region can go if the results start coming in.
The match against Connacht at Rodney Parade in April showed yet again, the Dragons’ ability to do the hard work without coming away with the rewards as a try bonus point went begging in a match where the men of Gwent spent much of the match camped in the opposition’s 22.
An unsuccessful Heineken Cup campaign left the side lamenting what so nearly was. An impressive start against European Kings Toulouse, went sour with players’ minds on the condition of Aussie centre Marc Stcherbina, stretchered off with a broken neck and Toulouse capitalised. That defeat was perhaps a turning point in an encouraging European campaign thus far. Had is not been for Glasgow’s spectacular victory over the French side and Marc’s injury, the Dragons could have been looking back over a convincing performance and a placing to be proud of.
The balance of this season was not kind to the Dragons, four games in thirteen weeks followed by four in thirteen days was a tough challenge, especially with so much riding on the results with three of the Welsh regions fighting to avoid a Heineken Cup playoff. Having not profited from such a good run out, the Dragons looked to turn a hard run-in on its head.
Sadly it was not meant to be and defeats against the Ospreys and the Blues sealed the Dragons position as 9th in the Magners League. A convincing victory in the Italian playoff which cost possible Welsh caps for Jason Tovey, Lewis Evans and Dan Lydiate allowed the season to end on a positive note and the region prepared to attack their next pre-season with renewed vigour.
There were certainly some highlights this season which can easily be forgotten with too much “big picture” thinking. The emergence of Jason Tovey as a great Welsh talent, Tom Willis as a fantastic captain and the return of Danny Lydiate from a career-threatening broken neck were highlights. Joe Bearman, despite not being quite Welsh enough for this summer’s tour to the USA was certainly impressive for the region with some outstanding performances. With the services of Aaron Coundley, Lewis Evans and Wales Under 20 captain James Thomas secured for the foreseeable future, the end of the season certainly left a lot to look forward to.
Finally the news that the planning permission was granted for the new stadium and training facilities gave everyone a lift, with new players coming to play here there is certainly a wind of change starting to blow through Rodney Parade.